Writ of Actual Innocence...Explained.

Mar 19, 2013

One of the bills that Governor McDonnell has signed into law revises the rules that allow an offender who was wrongly convicted to prove that he’s innocent of the crime. 

The measure chips away at the state’s longstanding 21-day rule, which gives an offender only three weeks after a final order of conviction to bring new evidence to the court which could prove he’s not guilty.  The new law simply changes the standard that a defendant must satisfy to be exonerated.

Under previous revisions to the law, new biological and non-biological evidence can be submitted later than 21 days after a conviction.  But Delegate Joe Morrissey says the language was still too strict.
“The old Writ of Actual Innocence law was a draconian measure that made it almost impossible for an innocent person to get a new trial or to be acquitted.”
Morrissey says the law’s changes include revising one word. That alone makes it easier for the Court of Appeals or state Supreme Court to find that with this previously unknown evidence, no rational trier of fact would  have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The language said that no rational trier of fact COULD find that the person was guilty. Well, sure! You know, that’s like saying, ‘Well, a meteorite COULD hit you.’ But WOULD it? No! So, changing it to from ‘could’ to ‘would’ makes it easier for an innocent man," said Morrissey.

And while an attorney general’s role has been to defend the prosecutor’s case and stress proof of guilt, the new law will permit him to provide evidence of innocence.